Conversations (online and in person) about “should Howard County raise taxes to put more money in to the school system” seem to come up every year during the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) budget process. This year is no different. I have seen and heard more than a few people talk about raising taxes to “fully fund” the school system budget recently.
These conversations seemed to really ramp up recently as the Howard County Board of Education has proposed to reduce the HCPSS Superintendents proposed budget increase of $63 million down to an increase of $30 million. Of course I had my opinion on that item (READ HERE).
I wanted to share a few facts with readers that I think is important in this conversation:
How heavy a tax burden is already on residents of Howard County?
- Howard County has the 2nd highest property tax rate (including fire tax) and the highest personal income tax rate allowed by the State. The recordation tax is at the lowest rate in the State and the transfer tax is below four other counties.
- The County recently increased the fire tax and trash fee, imposed a new ambulance fee (the revenues are restricted for specific uses), and increased the School Surcharge (restricted for school capital projects).
- The County recently approved a Plastic Bag fee that will begin in October 2020 (restricted for “environmental” purposes).
Here is a nice chart to give you all a look at taxes in Howard County vs other counties in the state of Maryland:
* Transfer tax revenues are restricted to funding capital projects.
Does Howard County allocate and spend the right amount of money per student?
I do not think there is a correct answer to this question. Everyone will have their own opinions. The chart I think of with this question is from the United States Census Bureau:
Howard County ranks 5th in the NATION in per pupil spending out of the 100 largest school systems by enrollment. This chart tells me we are spending a decent amount of money on our school system (especially compared to most of the other large school districts in America).
We know from past budget cycles Howard County Government spends between 52% and 58% (depending on where you get your information or what budget cycle it is) of their total budget on the school system. This is by far the largest portion of the Howard County Government budget. In order to increase this number the county would need to either tax residents or eliminate / reduce other programs in the county. Howard County Government recently put out this information regarding the HCPSS Superintendents latest budget proposal:
“The impact of fully funding the Superintendent’s proposed budget would be significant. Assuming revenue growth mirrors the $36.5 million generated in FY2020, funding the Superintendent’s proposed budget would force $27.6 million in cuts to County services including Howard Community College and Howard County Library System, equating to the cost of 450 police officers.”
Does adding new taxes on residents affect the affordability of this county?
Remember all of the discussion around the school facilities surcharge on developers (CB42-2019)? Many in the county were for it…some against it. Those advocating against this surcharge noted how it would affect the affordability of living in Howard County.
Would additional new taxes on the residents in Howard County also affect the affordability to live in this county today and going forward? I think it might. I do not hear much about this when folks talk about new taxes to fund the schools…but it should be part of the discussion if affordability comes up when we discuss new fees on developers.
My final thoughts:
We all have the highest of expectations for our school system here in Howard County. We should…it is the best in the state and we all want it to stay that way.
I am in no way trying to tell you what to believe or advocate for or against in this post. My goal is to provide you information as the topic of new taxes is thrown around in conversations (in person or online).
It is pretty clear what side I am on in this conversation…but I urge you all to do your own research (you can start with the data above) and know what it means to say “fully fund” the school system and “we should raise taxes” and the affect that it may have on our county.
I hope this question is asked in the upcoming HoCoBOE candidate forums. I would love to hear from the candidates looking to represent the residents of Howard County on the Board of Education what they think on this topic.
If you have other facts you would like to put into this conversation…please feel free to let me know in the comments.